Bill Long 11/23/08
His Latest CD--Within the Stillness
Last week, just about this time, Don Eves greeted me after church in Garden City KS, where I had just preached, and gave me his latest CD. Don and I had met each other once or twice previously when my work called me to that jewel of Western KS, but until he handed me Within the Stillness I was unaware of the scope of his musical interests and talents. He previous efforts had focused on country music, but with this CD Don has branched into the world of spiritual/Christian music in a way that shows indebtedness to his country roots but seeks to go beyond the "countrification" of Jesus/God so prevalent today. In fact, Within the Stillness is, in my judgment, as much a reflection of Don's own longing to find new and different musical expression to the rich content he presents as it is inspired by any other genre. In Within the Stillness Don skillfully connects sensual imagery/words with a mellow baritone voice to produce a CD of stunning and alluring richness. In the remainder of this essay I would like to put him in a "Christian music" context and then say a few words about the CD.
A Word on Christian/Religious Music
The modern phenomenon known as "Christian music" or "Christian rock" owes its origin to some musicians in the late 1960s/early 1970s who were either classically trained and wanted to explore theological concepts (such as Larry Norman) or who were themselves newly "converted" and wanted to explore ways of expressing this new life in music. One of the most memorable "voices" of that era for me was evoked by listening to Don Eves, and that voice was Ed Anderson's. Ed's deeply melodic, meditative style forever convinced me that good Christian music need not be frenetically-paced or be sung in the higher registers. There was a way for musicians to touch the soul directly through "slowness," by strumming on the heartstrings as they plucked their cords.
Since those days 30 years ago Christian music has not only become more specialized, but has also become more conscious of various traditions it might draw upon to express its content. At first the unspoken assumption was that Christian music would be "light rock" or "rock lite," with toned-down music and muted words, so that it would pass through the PG-like filters of Tipper Gore and the other guardians of clean living. But as the movement matured in the 1980s and 1990s, the possible sources for current Christian music inspiration exploded. Country, always a willing partner, came to the big dance. But then other musicians began to explore older expressions of musical tradition of the West, from Gregorian Chants to Celtic spirituality, in which to root their music. Today we live in an eclectic age and so the challenge to a Christian musician is like a girl going to the prom: what "look" should I adopt?
Don Eves has, in my mind, begun to answer the question in Within the Stillness. He is shaped by a country past, by the deep soil and still appeal of the Kansas plains, by a slower, reflective tone that befits his voice. I will look forward to the ways that Don will, in the future, continue to marry his obvious musical skill and unforgettable voice with other traditions of music-making for maximum effect.
Moving to the CD
Then ten songs on this album were all written by Don, and they range from a heartfelt tribute to Charlie Guy ("Today") to meditations on the Psalms ("Be Still" [and know that I am God]) or reflections on the joy and power there is in the quite of our lives ("Within the Stillness"). Throughout his songs, however, are lyrics of tender and endearing sensuality. One "touches" the "Great I Am;" "You'll hear God say your name," One "sees the beauty of the Lamb." Faith, for Don, is not simply a cerebral concept; it brims with life, and it beckons us deeper into the stillness, where a merciful God exists who speaks to us with compassion, who removes the mountains that threaten and straightens the paths that are crooked. Thus, behind an awareness of the heartbreaks of life is a calm awareness that within the shadows stands a God who not only knows the tragedies to which His children are subject, but it available for comfort, guidance and wisdom.
The most memorable thing about the album for me is not the complexity of the music or elegance of the lyrics, but the resonant quality of Don's voice. When listening to Don sing the tender "Be Still," for example, I not only was touched by his sound but was transported in mind to think of others whose voice seemingly pierced through the layers of defensiveness that I (as well as all of us) use to cover our hearts. I thought of the brilliant soprano notes of Kathleen Battle in singing Hayden's Die Schopfung, especially when she went into a higher register to sing the praise of the Second Day ("Das Lob des zweinten Tags"). I thought, too, of the melodic depths of David Thomas singing "The Trumpet will Sound" from Handel's Messiah. Among more "popular" musicians, I know I am transfixed by John Denver's plangent tenor, rising to reach the heights of the mountains it describes, or lilting with the Shanghai breezes that gently blow. That is, Don's captivating baritone voice not only kept me "with him" on the songs, but led me on my own journey to celebrate the other voices which had broken through every level of my listening and landed in my heart. Don't music and "sound" does that for me.
If you haven't run into Don and his work, pick up his CD. You will find yourself, maybe unexpectedly, wanting to return to it again and again, as you seek the Stillness from which you can operate in your own strength.